Rome: Italians on Sunday voted in regional
elections seen as a referendum on embattled Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi two years into his mandate.
Pollsters predict gains for Berlusconi`s troublesome
coalition partner, the anti-immigration Northern League, and a
low turnout reflecting voters` disenchantment with the
political class after an exceptionally negative campaign.
Some 41 million Italians are eligible to vote in the
elections for governors of 13 of the country`s 20 regions.
Berlusconi, flagging in opinion surveys and beset by
scandal, has campaigned hard to get people out to vote for his
centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party for the last
electoral test before his term ends in 2013.
If the populist Northern League makes major gains in the
wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto, it is likely to demand
a new cabinet post and city hall in Berlusconi`s native Milan,
Italy`s economic and financial capital.
A resurgent Northern League could also further alienate a
key Berlusconi ally, parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini, often
tipped as a successor to the three-time prime minister.
The party was an essential ally in Berlusconi`s return to
power in 2008, campaigning on pledges of cracking down on
illegal immigration and crime, often linking the two.
After a year in which Berlusconi, 73, has been dogged by
scandal over his private life and corruption probes involving
his sprawling media empire, the February arrests of PDL
members accused of accepting kickbacks added to his woes.
That scandal was quickly followed by embarrassment when
the PDL fumbled over its candidate lists in Rome`s Lazio
region and Berlusconi`s native Lombardy.
And earlier this month prosecutors opened a probe into
allegations that Berlusconi tried to gag a political talk show
that is often critical of the billionaire prime minister.
Berlusconi, who campaigned for the PDL on the slogan
"Love Always Wins Over Envy and Hatred", has seen his approval
rating slip to 44 per cent, while the PDL-Northern League
government scored only 38 per cent in a recent opinion poll.